Our bodies are fragile machines. Once you truly ponder the various ways our bodies can shut down, become injured, contract diseases or even turn against itself you come to realize we are imperfect biological machines with so many shortcomings. On average we live about eighty years. Some longer, some shorter. It all depends on genetic factors, lifestyle and a plethora of other variables. We are destine to live, pass on our genes (sometimes not) and then prepare for our own great journey.
But, what if we could live indefinitely? Not just longer, but as stronger more enhanced biological machines? What if we could transcend our own flawed biology and become almost perfect organisms? To negate our weaknesses, and live for perhaps eternity. We are the only creatures on this planet, or solar system, and possibly even our own galaxy to achieve sentience on the scale of being able to do exactly that. Transcend. In the past century we have gone from wooden airplanes to the SR-71 Blackbird, which flew at incredible speeds and heights. From horse drawn carriages to electric cars. We now have more computational power in one smartphone that was the combined processing power of all the machines in the 1950s. And soon, sooner than people would like to think, we will have created the first true artificial intelligence.
With all of our technology, we have the ability now to augment ourselves to become what is known as "transhuman." Transhumanism (or just H+) is the notion that we can transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Ever seen Star Trek the Next Generation's Borg? In essence, that. Just with more free will and less ugly. It's coming, you better believe it is. Fairly soon we are going to be more machine than man. We are already augmenting ourselves with technology. Your smartphone is a device that can connect you to a virtual world at anytime, your computer an extension of your body to enhance its work/creativity. Google Glass, prosthetic technology, artificial organs, carbon fiber bones, self driving cars and heads up displays. The Borg has already assimilated us.
Now there are plenty of games our there that explore this notion, better than Halo in fact. Deus Ex is possibly the most well known and well received. Other's include Mass Effect, DOOM, Remember Me, Cyberpunk 2077, Syndicate, Satellite Rein...The list goes on. But since this is a series on Halo lets delve into the transhuman themes and technology of the franchise.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
Humanity in the early 2500s faced an uprising in insurgent activity. Entire colonies were being subjugated and subverted by the rebel movement against the UCSD. The threat was growing at such an alarming rate that ordinary UNSC soldiers and even ODSTs were not effective in pushing the tide back. Humanity had reached it's biological limits to fight a war of attrition. It needed something better than it was, a super soldier. Enter the Spartan Program. The UNSC started with the Orion project, which was a program that would use chemical biological alterations to enhance human strength and abilities. This included higher levels of tolerance to heavy weight, higher reflex reactions, hand eye coordination, and effectiveness in combat. The Orion project was meant to turn ordinary men and women into super human soldiers. Soldiers that were capable of being fielded in extreme circumstances and could do what an entire squad could not.
However the technology was flawed and Orion turned into a failed experiment. Soldiers often exhibited side effects as a result of their augmentations and many members were discharged from the military as a result of mental instabilities. In order to ensure absolute secrecy, the side effects caused by the genetic augmentations were masked as a disease known as Boren's Syndrome. As with any technology you augment into your body, the bodies immune system will try and fight the foreign object. It is a precise science and one that takes years of work in order to successful "augment" a human. Orion however paved the way for the most famous technology in all of Halo, The Spartans.
Unlike Orion's adult volunteers, Spartan IIs were kidnapped when they were children. This is because as children they had not fully developed so augmentation would be slightly easier. It was also due to them being more susceptible to the UCSC's indoctrination into becoming ultra loyal solders. The augmentation process was brutal as described here.
No part of the body was left untouched, and after the process was complete (many died during) The Spartans IIs stood as the ultimate evolution of humanity. Smarter, faster, stronger in every way possible. Through technological augmentation the Spartan IIs transcended their biological flaws and became near perfect. They were however, augmented for one reason and one reason only. War. And while the UNSC's transhuman experiments with Orion and the Spartan IIs created the ultimate machines of war, their augmentations served little purpose outside of combat and they were not truly ascended. They still aged, they still bled and they would eventually die like all other humans.
So how does one transcend human biology completely? Transhumanism is one thing, but transcendence is another concept altogether. If you want to truly shed yourself of your meaty, liquid sack form you have to embrace the digital slipstream. And not be afraid to say goodbye to your humanity.
"The body was meat”. Meat deteriorates, but cyberspace lives on forever. - Neuromancer
The Forerunners were masters of technology, gods to those who were lesser. They built Dyson spheres to collect entire star's energy, massive artificial worlds and incredible vessels. But they strove for something that they could never properly achieve. Transcendance. When the Flood invaded, their idea became even more crucial to implement. To take their biological bodies and "transfer" them into an artificial shell within a digitized matrix. They frantically tired, but could never master the process. Finally, they gave up their very free will to become digital warriors. Choosing to transfer themselves into artificial combat shells, retaining their memories but negating their free will in the process.
I am talking of course, about the Promethans. The process in which they were created is actually very feasible and we are extremely close to doing this in our non-fictional world. The 2045 Initiative has some of the brightest minds working on it. It aims to transfer human consciousness into a digital matrix by 2045 or 2050. In fact, the project has already uploaded the brain signals of a mouse into a CPU. Mind you the signals, not the entire consciousness or thought pattern. But we are getting closer by the day.
Halo's Promethans actually bring up a good point, as does the game SOMA. Is the consciousness transferred still...you? Yes, in a way it is but the original you has to be destroyed in the process much like in quantum teleportation. You are still you, but the you which was previously there is gone. Transferred to a new digital matrix. But whoever is on the other end of that transfer better make sure everything goes smoothly or you'll end of like the Prometheans, with no free will and a psychological mess. Done correctly though (we still don't know what correctly is) and you will have transcended biology itself and become an entity of pure digital essence. Immortal, unbreakable and immeasurable orders of magnitudes more intelligent than you ever were.
The Forerunners strived for this, the bridge the physical and digital realms. But what I surmise happened is they lacked the ability to combined AI with biology much like Dr. Halsey created Cortana out of her own brain patterns. Weather The Forerunners lacked the technology (doubt it) or were in such a fever rush because of The Flood that they overlooked proper implementation of their own technology (more plausible) that failure ultimately lead to the Composer's construction and the fall of their empire.
There is one more way to transcend within the Halo franchise, and that is to become one with The Flood.
Once you are infected by The Flood, you are linked with a higher power of thought, The Gravemind. You inhabit your body, you know what you are doing but you have no control of your actions. It is the most haunting way to shed your human form, and all without the aid of technology. You become stronger, faster and more capable but you are stripped of your memories and your consciousness. Your thoughts and mind are replaced by the ever present commands of The Gravemind, you become a thrall.
The Flood transform their victims into biomass, and they are all connected to a greater gestalt (hivemind) intelligence. They Gravemind insists that this is a beneficial transition, and once the galaxy bows to their influence there will be peace. But is peace worth sacrificing your consciousness in order to be part of something greater? Is shedding your humanity really worth what is promised? I don't believe so, and that goes for technology based augmentation and digital transcendence. Unless you retain what makes you, you, then I believe you should embrace your biology and remain an imperfect machine.
Because at the end of the day, I'd rather be a flawed piece of hardware than a soulless, emotionless monolith of perfection. And that is Halo's question to you, one it has begun to ask more and more as the franchise develops.
What is the price, of ascendance?
A Halo fan since the beginning, 2001. Also a games industry consultant, writer, and educator. These are my thoughts, praise and advice concerning the past, present and future narrative of the Halo franchise.
Halo, all assets within, characters and merchandise are property of the Microsoft Corporation and is developed by its subsidiary 343 Industries.
I do not own, claim to own or retain any rights to the Halo franchise. This is a fan based work, and is strictly non-profit.
All other images, articles linked, materials and franchises that are not strictly specified as my own are property of their respective owners.
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Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
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